Right foot forward…

I had my last class for this year…this year…

I still have to tell myself that it has been a little over a year since I started this blog…a little over a year since I started to cook professionally and here I am…a little over a year later.

But, it wasn’t very long since I started to teach the group of kids at the Thrive house to cook.  And it wasn’t very long that I had learned how awesome it is to cook for those who truly appreciate your presence and your food.  I love those kids and this past Monday was my last class with them for 2009. Lets go through the past weeks of cooking.

Week 1- Introduction – 4 girls gave them a questionnaire, introduced myself, felt uncomfortable, continuous giggling.  One girl stated that she watched Lydia Bastianich on PBS, “Lydia’s Kitchen is my favorite show along with Cooks Kitchen”.  This got me so excited for the rest of the classes….

Week 2- Turkey meatballs and a home-made marinara sauce, Green Salad with carrots and red onions and a balsamic vin.  Taught the kids the ratio of avinaigrette…an acid…an oil…seasoning (salt pepper).  Taught the students to taste as they go, and let them season the all the food.  Taught them to salt their pasta water that “it should taste like the sea”, taught them to chiffonade basil leaves.  Let them roll the balls, brown the meatballs, they minced and diced and sliced and the meal was a complete success.  Cleanup was a bummer for the coordinators.

week 3- Smoked Turkey and kale soup.   Found out that There was NO BUDGET for the classes.  Went to the SF Foodbank for the first time to pick out ingredients for the class that morning; Cabbage, potatoes, onions, kale, daikon, garlic, carrots, apples.  That day boiled some water with the turkey wings 3 hours, added some chicken stock for more richness, roughly chopped the daikon and put it in the broth for extra warmth and body, 5:00 set up whiteboard with list of ingredients.  Desert?  Yes.  Apple Crumble? Yes ! Apple crumble it is.  taught the kids to slice, chop, dice, and grate.  Took out the turkey wings cooled them and let them strip off the meat to put back into the soup.  Sliced some apples, brown sugar and cinnamon flour and butter and a bit o salt 30 minutes for desert & 30-40 minutes of simmering the soup, some cheesy garlic bread and yes, dinner was served.  Timing?  Still not so good. Out of class at about 8:00.

Weel 4 – Still had the leftover turkey in a tube from the foodbank.  Hmm....still had potatoes…hmmmokay well lets do mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. OH AND BISCUITS! 3 weeks of turkey so far what to do next.  Taught the kids to boil potatoes, mash potatoes, season,  and how to make them creamy and delicious.  Next, saute meat with onions and garlic and some sausage taken out of it’s casing.  Carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers, cornstarch (other ingredients…I know I am forgetting a few)…soon changed to a variation of Shepherd’s pie with buttery flakey biscuits on top.  NO TIME!! took the biscuit dough off the pie, but luckily had 14 mini biscuits already cooking.  Oh no! Oven temp went down…Oh no! pans were too large for the oven!  With some last minute improvisation and yes, dinner was finally done.  Kids ended up leaving at around 8:30.  I don’t remember making a desert for this class.

Week 5: Sloppy Joe’s with an apple and carrot coleslaw! This recipe is in a previous post titled “A MESSAGE TO YOU…)  This was also a great hit with the kids, even the ones that thought that they would never eat this type of coleslaw.  Desert: Candied pecans (with butter and brown sugar and cinnamon with a little bit of nutmeg), Vanilla ice-cream and warmed peaches. The kids were really loud so no one ended up having desert.  This class nearly gave me a heart attack.

week 6: TACO MONDAY- Cumin Citrus and Soy marinated flank steak tacos with fresh guacamole and salsa fresca, fresh shucked corn saute with garlic and butter, and black beans.  Dinner was done in exactly 1/2 an hour. Taught them to; sear, chop, cut, julliene, squeeze, toss, mash, how to use a bundt pan cake to shave corn, why tortillas should be warmed and kept in a towel, how by using some of the same basic ingredients such as onions, garlic, salt, pepper, lime juice, and cilantro can become guacamole or salsa, also showed them how easy it is to have fresh corn taste so good with just garlic, butter, salt and pepper. Best class yet.  I felt so invigorated after this class.

Week 7- Taleya brought in a shrimp fried rice recipe from her grandmother.  With some suggestions from the program coördinator Thuy, the class would consist of Shrimp fried rice, with a Chinese inspired cabbage salad with wonton crisps, and strawberry shortcake for desert with fresh whipped cream. Some peas, carrots, corn, garlic, onion, butter, soy sauce, cilantro, champagne vinegar, green onions, pepper, chinese sausage, cabbage, wonton chips, peanut butter (for the cabbage salad) and yes OHHH yes dinner was right on time!! The kids got home at 7:30.  And cleanup was a breeeeeze.

One of my most memorable moments was when a young girl named Tatiana came up to me and told me “I like you…”.  “So why do you like me?”  I replied “because your nice”  “well what didn’t you like about the other teacher”  “she was mean”….  Can I mention she also played the kids world music?  I doubt you can connect with young kids now a days with drowning sounds of world music from the Putamayo series when they have Lady Gaga or Jay Z on their Ipods. Another memorable moment had to be when Joanna exclaimed at the table “YO, this is HELLA GOOD.”  I also get so excited when the kids go for 2nds and thirds.

And Oh yes…feel good song of the day:

Piece O’ Cake

Photo by Daniel Dent

Wedding cakes.  Never did I ever think that I would be the go to person when it comes to wedding cakes, but so far I’ve been lucky enough to experience what its like be able to sweeten up two couples weddings.   My first attempt came about in May of 2009 when a statuesque blonde with bands of tattoos asked me to make her wedding cupcakes.  70 cupcakes, and a 4 tiered cake and a broken KitchenAid later the first special occasion cake was introduced to the world. The cake would be a fluffy Meyer Lemon cake with a lemon and orange blossom glaze slathered with whipped cream and garnished with slices of strawberries and candied kumquat.  FIRST TIME!  With some excellent help from my good friend Danielle, my roommate’s KitchenAid Appliance, and tips from my Pastry Chef Jen along with some last-minute necessities I was off for a bit of an adventure!

Danielle Patrice Arazaga - pastry assistant extraordinaire!

Armed and ready with butter, flour, sugar, eggs, honey, and garnishes within 3 hours I was able to whip out those lovely delicate cakes.  But of course something had to happen.  Dee (Danielle) dropped the kitchen aid on the LAST batch!  Whew I thought, it’s okay because that was the last batch, but what about the frosting??? Mixer = Broken. Fell to its death. “Ohhh no I don’t have the money to pay for another kitchen aid” said Dee. “STOP! We’ll worry about that later”.  With two whisk, A sunny San Francisco day, a back yard and some stairs we began to whisk the honeyed whipped cream into the light and airy frosting.  The cake came out beautifully for a Spring Wedding! And of course delicious!

Second came about early June 2009. A couple overheard that I did a wedding cake and they asked me if I would want to do theirs? Suuurree I thought…later  I received an email from the grooms mother asking me to make a grooms cake.  With some handy-dandy research tools I was able to find out that a groom’s cake was a very southern tradition.   Usually a very decadent or whimsical cake that is used to represent the groom.

Karl and Halo had a beautiful wedding on their family’s ranch July 4th 2009.  Needless to say there were insufficient modern-day tools to help me with this one.  I baked the vanilla cakes a day ahead and was able to pack everything in neat little containers so that the next day all I would need to do was assemble the 5 tiered cake.  The cake would consist of Vanilla cake, with layers of whipped cream, strawberries and a milk and honey concoction.  The outer would be slathered with whipped cream, bits of pecan praline, and shavings of chocolate.  IT WAS A SUCCESS!!! But of course mishaps occurred.

Photo by Daniel Dent

No…absolutely no kitchen aid, no whisk, and no bowls present at the ranch.  The local convenience store, and grocery store had only 2 1/2 pint containers of whipping cream.  We had to drive 30-45 minutes away to two different locations to buy 10 1/2 pint containers of heavy

whipping cream.  Daniel who was also photographing the wedding ended up also being my knight in shining armor and my driver.  The local breakfast joint/lunch and dinner spot was kind enough to let me borrow a giant whisk and a very large bowl to whisk the cream, a bowl that Paul Bunion must have used himself.  Assembling the cake was easssssssssy.  4- 8 inch round tiers of cake moistened with a milk and honey syrup (which I found was a symbol of long-lasting love in Persian culture), slices of fresh strawberries,  hand whipped honey cream and a top-tier about 5 inches in circumference was the cherry on top.  assembled 1.5 hours ahead of schedule I went off to take a shower and ready myself for the wedding.

Photo by Daniel Dent

Y’all better head back to the house I think something’s happened to the cake!!” So with whipped cream still in my hair,  my eyes bulged, and I took a gulp.   WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED!!!   I ran into the house.  It felt like I had just walked into a bad hospital scene.  All the nurses inside just bowed their heads down in silence as I walked through the archaic kitchen, walking through the sea of women in the kitchen to see my patient on its side 1/2 the body torn.  The tiny fridge which held the large cake was pretty much at room temp.    I faintly opened the refrigerator door only to find that half the cake had disastrously plunged to its sweet death.  WHAT WAS I TO DO? the chocolate shavings the praline, the cake!!! THE CAKE!!!  The electricity on the ranch was not up to par with modern-day standards. Daniel who by now was running around like a mad man shooting odds and ends of the wedding came to my side and offered me a suggestion as I went completely numb from shock.  1 hour till the wedding, no working oven, no supplies, no extra ANYTHING!

Photo by Daniel Dent

“JUSTICE LEAGUE” said Daniel “Lets just…do this…and that…and we’ll…and then…VOILA” the HALL OF JUSTICE was born.  Karl the groom wanted a cake that would show his love for comic books, so he presented me with a few Justice League characters in the form of Lego figurines.  This was to be the whimsical and decorative element of the cake.  The tippy top of the cake was salvaged from the wreck.  Somehow we jimmied the two leftover portions of the cake together.  I can’t really explain how we did it but we d

id.  With all the separate components now becoming one as the frosting suddenly the HALL OF JUSTICE appeared! No one was the wiser.  The cake was better than the original and in fact matched perfectly what a grooms cake was all about.

“Are you the young woman who made the cake?”  asked the grooms mother.  An angelic woman of magnificent grace and beauty. “Yes…but I have to admit the cake didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to so I won’t charge you anything for it.”  I braced her with what had happened, held her warm hand and led her into the kitchen.  Her eyes lit up and she seemed completely shocked.  I almost had to lift up her lower jaw from the floor!

She loved it, and she didn’t understand what was wrong with it in the first place! It was such a long SIGHHHHHHHHHHHHH of relief.

Both occasions I learned how important it is to roll with the punches and with downs always there is an upside to things. Nothin’ beats a little positive thinking, quick thinking and ingenuity.  Nothing beats teamwork.

And a little song:

Hounds tooth…

I didn’t mind it tonight…the climma’ klamma’ of the kitchen.   It was a mellow night compared to last night’s wreckage.  The other night I had my first mentally challenging night.  I worked furiously and to no avail.  On the line by myself, with various mishaps.  Clearly it didn’t detour me.  I’ve been fortunate to come across some reliable and successful kitchens with patience.

Tonight I spoke with one of my sous,and as a student at UC Santa Cruz a professor told him, “When reading becomes a chore it’s time to move on.”  So that’s how he ended up in a kitchen…Santa Cruz…New York…Chicago…and San Francisco.

I’ve heard horror stories.  For cooking, to become a chore.  A haphazard mundane task.    So far, a pastry chef puncturing the nerve in her arm with a sharp German pairing knife (her right hand),  someone walking off the oven line in the middle of a busy dinner rush, slamming s hand in the walk-in then getting sent to the hospital also in the middle of a busy dinner rush, cases of ringworm, fingers getting sliced on the meat slicer, and this my friend is only the beginning of the cuts and scaring.  The other night a fire loomed just 3 doors down from the restaurant.  As the fire trucks came blaring down the street and the smell of plastic and burnt embers filling the air,   through the lights and sirens we kept working.   Mentors have even told me they heard a head cook screaming in the bathroom bloody murder in the middle of a hectic shift because of a kidney stones.

One night after a shift, a couple of us got together for a nightcap, and over a 40 oz and a glass of wine i heard a cook softly proclaim, “I just want to cook”.  Simple. His eyes nearly welled up.  It was the first time that I came across someone who feels that there is much more to cooking than just heat and chaos, the no frills. It is about nurturing a twisted instinct in us all to feed others, and to do it well.  I’ve always wanted to do that.

Maybe it was growing up in a bakery.  Maybe it was watching my mother cook. Maybe it was trying to cook for my brothers when my mother wasn’t home from a long work day.  Maybe it was that one time I made homemade pastries for my fifth grade class (Chinese crackers chocolate and butterscotch chips), or the other time I had to make my twist on egg rolls for an Sophomore English class;the topic, food from your culture (ground beef sautéed w/mushrooms, onions and garlic, along some spices rolled in won-ton wrappers).  I remember thinking, these kids definitely won’t like the grisly noodles and black mushrooms in my mothers egg rolls, so I’ll Americanize it!

In one of my first posts, I had mentioned that I carried my knives in a fancy bag. I no longer carry my knives in my calf skin Marc Jacobs bag.  I no longer feel the need really to get such material possessions when now I can’t even afford to think about such extravagances, even before, they were just window shopping dreams.  I can however think of foie grois, truffles, black-footed chickens, various charcuteries, cook books, a lovely dinner at Chez Panisse.

I now carry my knives in a fold-able black, hounds tooth lined knife bag.  In it I carry 2, 8 inch knives, one western one Japanese, a serrated knife, a 6 inch Japanese vegetable knife, a Japanese pairing knife, a small mandolin, measuring spoons, an ergonomic peeler, Sharpees, Neosporin, and a board scraper.   It’s exciting.  I find comfort in holding onto my knives… my toolkit.  Sometimes admitting that I throw in some chap stick, an eyebrow manicure kit, and even blush and a brush.  I see my hands aging and my bruises and scrapes becoming more common.

Maybe I am exaggerating, after all we all tend to become our worst critics clearly hoping that growth and maturing will develop.   It all pays off.   When you can learn someone new each day, and so far I’ve learned various techniques to cooking meats, pastas, and vegetables, various prep shortcuts, and most importantly appreciating what is immediately in front of you.  Focus and determination, just when you think your about to burst, you remember your ability to breathe.  The kitchen has revived my sense of self. The kitchen has also shown me how to keep up a sense of cool, and a bit of awareness and confidence.

Travel…ohhh travel is on my mind.  I have to admit I haven’t been able to travel much but I find it important for cooks to venture out to new territory, and to explore and cultivate their palate.  To be able to get inspiration from other restaurants and cooks.   To gain momentum by  gathering new ideas and ingredients from farms and purveyors but, to also be able to experience authentic regional cuisine.   Paris is currently on my mind…

Sweetness and Desire.

 

picking herbs

My father passed ( GOD I miss him) a few years ago and I have so many beautiful memories of him. He would laugh tirelessly to the three stooges, Gilligan’s Island, and to I love Lucy.  I often will replay that boisterous and roaring laugh over and over, in good times and bad.  His laugh would shake a room and to this day rivet my heart. He was also a man of great mystery who failed to say many words, but when he did I would often listen intently to the fables and sweet folklores of my Vietnamese heritage.
From him I gained patience. He stood tall beneath that 5’6 frame and I was proud to have him as my jolly father.  I wasn’t always proud of his car though. He drove a 1979 Toyota Celica, and then a 1981 Toyota Celica–both hatchbacks. He had a black head full of voluminous hair, ears that protruded from his kind face. His smile could still bring to me such a feeling of pride, that it aches my heart to think he ever left.

He was tanned from the natural melamine that ran through his Cambodian bloodline. He had the cheeks of a wisest elder, and the smile of that Jolly good luck Buddha. There are so many memories of him–

My mother would get mad at him if he slept in the same clothes after work, and it was worst if he didn’t shower.  He would marinate the sheets and blankets with the sweet and savory smells of the donut fryer. He was a baker through the later parts of his life. He did so tirelessly and sometimes it seems endlessly.   I never knew how hard he worked. We owned a bakery– DONUTLAND.  I spent most of my early childhood behind the counter of the shop, still sometimes hearing the ding ding ding of the cash register.   Whenever I pass by a donut shop (not just any bakery) I am often reminded of the sweet and melting shortening smell of the deep fryer.   The wonderful hints of cinnamon from the donut crumbles, the saccharine sweetness of the frosting that was ladled onto the glaze donuts.

Nowadays I look forward to walking pass a donut shop peering inside to find an Asian American immigrant behind the counter. The sunlit warmth of the smell becomes somewhat aroma-therapeutic and the visual images let me imagine their immigrant story.  No no NO! my mom would not allow my father to take a nap in the bed because of the strong odors that would sew themselves through the threads of his clothing and skin crocheting themselves with the delightful smells of the bakery.  And of course the sometimes not so delightful smells of the exhaust fumes filling the 1979 Toyota hatchback

“PROOFING” my first lesson from my dad the baker. “That’s when the dough rises–” Yeast water flour and time in the very humid proofer…wait…actually he would usually have to proof the dough overnight on the bakers table. I lovvvvvvvved tippy toeing up to the bakers table peeking at that oversized lump of dough that almost resembles a very yeasty bready smelling blob. It usually formed an outer crust when not kept under a moist towel…that gave me an excuse to pick at the scablike crust. Oh and of course POPPING the dough. Punching it in and releasing its air. I never realized just how much i remembered about the Donut making process.

Imagine this—suburban town that was mainly blue-collar, Latinos and Caucasians. We were one of the very few South East Asian families in the area. A donut shop tucked away on a corner hidden behind a major freeway vein. Hot dry days, and the next town over sprinkled with empty fields once smothered with cows and farmland.  There a little donut shop DONUT LAND was sandwiched between Victors Cleaners and Clover Insurance. Before you walk in there is a little girl feeding the birds, a woman who steps out of a 1981 white Buick Skylark with Tupperware bins filled with food, and a smiling husband opening the door to welcome her. So sweet, so cute. This is something that still visually haunts me

Pink interior…bad pink…pink donut boxes (your standard), a 5 column/ 4 tiered display of various donuts—pink ones, blueberry ones, brown ones, croissants, muffins, the works! A standard 6 burning coffee maker, a two sliding door fridge, and an ice-cream fridge that held about 8+ barrels of ice-cream.  I was surrounded by sweets!   The whole operation was fairly spacious. Spacious enough to let me rollarskate around.  My father worked a lot and I fear that it was what lead him to an early goodbye. I can’t even say if I ever heard him complain.   Sometimes when I feel like I’ve worked endlessly for hours I usually compare the work time with what my father had to deal with, and it helps me with gaining a different perspective to a career.

When I work in a kitchen it is not only to satisfy my daily desire to hone a craft but to pay homage to a man that has given me so much strength. He was the one that taught me to sauté and what a stir fry was, that if you put cornstarch into beef then it makes for a moist and succulent beef stir-fry. Steak with A-1 was “Ngong wa”….Soooo good. He loved my cooking, he would say “No body makes a turkey like Tina” he loved my pastas he loved my roasted chickens and he loved all the cakes I made. He was able to let me experiment in the bakery with various fillings for the donuts. I could fry, form, and glaze anything I wanted to. He taught me how to unroll a frozen croissant to stretch it out lightly, then roll cheddar and ham into it, he taught me how to scoop a good ice cream cone, how to ring someone up, how to plop a donut into the fryer, and of course how hot a donut gets when you don’t let it cool off.

With this I learned that those simple virtues have also embedded themselves through myself, and as I look back without too much holding on I hope those key moments will enable me to become the woman who my children will someday admire.

The patience and intelligence and nurture that is available in the kitchen can become a meditative process.  A process that has been instilled within me since my early days listening and watching my father work. I want to be wonderful and classic just like him. Just like my mother. I want my laughter to ring through a room and shatter darkness.

When I chop garlic, I think of how he would chop garlic. When I was at Zuni the other day chopping garlic I could feel him behind me guiding my knife. The last dream I had of my father, we were being chased by Karl Lagerfield, hopping fences and running through rounds of ammunition, and like superheroes we kicked jumped rolled and ran through the tireless night. I never wanted that night to end. But the night before I had a  dream that we were in a small kitchen my hand touching his cheek telling myself that this must be a dream and him just affectionately smiling at me. I woke up.

I love you DAD!

The Egg and the Scissors

It has been planned for nearly 3 decades that this day would come that inevitably I would be pursuing cooking FULLY.

Of course its more than fate that lead me to this day.

I remember hearing stories of when my father and mother would tell me that I picked an egg and a pair of scissors. I loved hearing this story because I was always a creative child who excelled in the arts.

So that you can further comprehend, there is this old Buddhist tradition, that in your first year of birth you are allowed to pick up two items from a table that would later determine your destiny. Consider it like self handpicked clue to the rest of your life.

Creativity and Food, I took it as Creativity and Life…

You can look at it either way.

Of course my brothers and sisters picked up, a calculator, pair of glasses, a pencil, a pen and a book. I don’t remember the rest but my sister ended up a driven business woman and dotting mother of 4, my brother a writer/ philosopher and a fireman, and my other brother into sales and marketing, all admirable in their rank, all graduated with degrees and some. Then there was me, the egg and the scissors. While I decided at 18 I wanted to dive into food.

“No” my mother would say. Girls are meant to stay clean and pretty and the kitchen is tough work and long hours. My daughter will never be doing that”

My mother in a nutshell. Actually no, my mother was a manicurist, to expand on this she was quite the workhorse. When she passes she will be a martyr because she lived for her children, she worked and breathed for her children. She was a lowly paid immigrant mother who never wanted her children to struggle like she did. But as long and strenuous and she worked she would come home and there would ALWAYS be fresh hot food on the table. Fresh stocks in the freezer, fresh herbs, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit. And of course always on a budget.

“Mom don’t you remember that I picked an egg and a pair of scissors? Don’t you think that meant something?”

“Don’t you realize that this was all superstition? It’s just a fun tradition”

“Well then why do you always say that it rang true for everybody else?” Everybody else meaning my brothers and sister.

I was always pretty spiritual and admired the idea that someone out there was looking out for me and that there was something mystical in the air that would lead me to my path. I liked this idea because from an early age I began to cook. I was fascinated by flavors and textures and how food felt in my mouth. I savored every last morsel of my mothers cooking and when my father took me out to “other” restaurants I would sometimes go into a daze about the food I was cherishing down.

My first true experience and my FIRST experience with being in a kitchen was at a spaghetti shack. When I went here for the first time I fell in love with the ambiance but most importantly I fell in love with the tangy and thick marinara sauce that blanketed the strands of spaghetti. The meatballs that were served with plate were large and beautifully savory. This took me back…it took me back to a time when my father would take me to this dingy Italian restaurant in our hometown and my favortite thing to get was the spaghetti and meatballs, that tangy sauce resonated through my memory and for years I never found something comparable to the sauce.

I bugged the chef endlessy for months to let me behind from just being a customer to becoming his apprentice. “For Free” I said. Well months later he called me out on it and I finally had my first training. On and off for a few months I came back into the kitchen. The haunting smells that would linger on me for hours even after leaving “the shack”, this was a safe warmth to me that holds dear to me because it was like a hug from my father.

My delight came from Saturdays with my father when he would come home from work and bring me home “American FOOD”

From Chinese takeout, In and Out Burgers, Fried Chicken, to Spaghetti and meatballs.

To me these were all considered American FOOD because all I had experienced really was my mother delicious Vietnamese home meals.

Her dinners were always abundant, there was always a soup to accompany a rice dish with a luscious table full of cucumbers to freshen the palate from the salty and savory spiced proteins that were served alongside fresh herbs. Her porridge was a homage to her mother and all the mothers and grandmothers who came before her and was like soft cushion of warmth in the cold winter months. Her soups and stocks were elegant and refined with delicate flavors that were bright and vibrant. I can’t say enough about my mothers cooking and there will never be someone who I feel would ever be able to mimic her clean style of cooking. I remember going to the markets with my mother, her 5’1 frame would coyly ask the produce man “Sir would you happen to have anything special back there or fresher??” of course he would run back to her with fresher basil, mint, sprouts anything. I was sometimes embarrassed by how much she would torture the fish mongers and butchers with the same question when they would say no she would argue with them and complain about the quality of meats that were present.

“Look woman if you don’t want it don’t buy it”

to that my mother would reply “YOUR MOM” and elegantly walk away annoyed because she didn’t get her way.

“No no not that one…the one next to it…no the bigger piece…less fat less fat, no no not that one…the eyes are too grey…yeah that one its plump!” From her I learned quality.

My father was the juggernaught of force in my early culinary discovery. I remember a time when he was a cook at a Chinese restaurant. He wore many hats, he was once a school bus driver, a mailman, a line cook at a Chinese restaurant, a line cook at a bowling alley, a gardener, a migrant worker, a janitor, and of course my favorite a baker. He was an educated man who immigrated to his country because he was in love with my mother and in love with his children and wanted a better life for them. So BOTH did whatever they could in order to raise us very well.

One day dad brought home an EEL! I had never seen one before and was curious to what I was about to see. He plopped the thing in the bathtub filled with water and said that it was still alive. It slithered through the water still alive and whipping.

I watched him butcher the writhing creature till it was just bits. Cleaned of all innards and blood it did it cleanly with a cleaver and a wooden cutting board, with his feet flat on the floor and squatting down. Raising that cleaver like it was an axe and he was the cowboy. He made the most delicious curried stew in that electric wok, with lemongrass, garlic, onions, curry powder, carrots and potatoes with of course that one floating bay leaf hidden within. The eel fell off the bone and we gladly ate the fish sauce infused stew with bread.

Both were gifted in the culinary arts, and both were sticklers for freshness and flavors.

My mother would have to work early in the mornings but my favorite day to wake up were Saturdays. I would get a light kiss on the forehead, slowly wake up from my slumber and make a trek to the living room…pulling my heavy blanket through the hallway. Sleep till about 9:00. Do you remember cooking shows before there was even the Food Network? Do you remember these beautiful classic and just straightforward cooking shows that would elevate and inspire so many other future chefs? I do. And I remember Jacques Pepin, and The Frugal Gourmet, Julia Child, Martin Wong, Lydia Bastianich, YES I remember allllll of these and I remember that watching them cook was like learning about the most profound things that I have ever come across. SO within my nearly 3 decades I was talked out of a cooking career. What was the catalyst? What was the last straw? What was it that made me get into cooking now? I remember yearning to try what fresh homemade pasta wasted like, I remember learning important vernacular that I still use to this day. Julienne, slice, dice, mirapoise, bechamel, to butterfly, to pound…I remember it all.

Please read over this post again…Just because I was talked out of it before never made it impossible to pursue.

I have so many fond memories of food and how they have enveloped my thoughts and how much I find passion within flavors and producing awe inspiring cuisine. Learning and working around it alone, I feel that I have been privileged to be around and have such great mentors past and present. I hope this will be an interesting journey.